After coming up short in the state championship match a year ago, Abby Lees returned to the Tacoma Dome and earned her place on the top of the podium.
This is why the Washougal Panther joined CrossFit North Pacific and her school’s cross country team. Strength, endurance and competition helped her become the best 155-pound female wrestler in the state.
“When you get this far, you will do whatever it takes to get a point,” Lees said. “After I won regionals, my coach gave me a note that said ‘Nobody beats a champion.’ That has been on my mind ever since.”
Just a sophomore, Lees outworked Sunnyside senior Jessica Cardenas and won the state championship medal by the score of 4-1.
Cardenas was one of only two wrestlers to claim a victory against Lees this season. Washougal head girls coach Heather Carver recalled the conversation she had with Lees after she lost to Cardenas in the finals of the Warden tournament, in December.
“She told me that she was so sick of finishing second. I told her to do something about it,” Carver said. “What Abby proved from that point on was that nothing was going to stop her from becoming a champion.”
Senior boys captain Zach Oster outlasted 14 other competitors in the 2A 120-pound state championship bracket and finished in second place.
The defining moment for the Panther occurred in the semifinals, when he defeated No. 2 Adam Adkinson, of Sedro Wooley, 8-6 in overtime. Oster picked Adkinson up from off the mat and slammed him down for two points just before time expired.
“That was an ‘I’m going to take you down’ move. ‘I don’t care what you do,'” said assistant coach Rob Anderson.
“What that match came down to is this,” added head coach John Carver as he pointed to his chest. “It was all heart.”
Oster said it was the “greatest privilege” to represent Washougal in the championship match. The Panther fought bravely, but lost to No. 1 ranked Carlos Lopez, of Selah, 6-5.
Junior girls captain Yaneli Martinez beat Kentwood’s Sidney Suit and Pasco’s Laura Maldonado Friday to reach the semifinals. The Panther lost twice Saturday, but still finished in fourth place. She has another year to complete the journey.
“My goal all along has been to medal at state,” Martinez said. “I got a little taste of it, and it makes me hungry to win state next year.”
Senior girls captain Jessica Eakins fulfilled her goal of participating in the Parade of Medalists. She pinned Sedro Wooley’s Teracita Shanes for seventh place.
“Before the match, I told myself ‘I hope I do everything I’ve trained for my entire life,” Eakins said. “To get a medal took more than just this season. A friend told me, ‘you’ve got six weeks to train as hard as you can and the next 60 years to sit back and watch.’ I took that to heart.”
Medals for Eakins and Martinez, along with Lees’ championship victory, led the Washougal girls wrestling team to eighth-place at state. Teammates Mialisa Oster, Morgan Ratcliff and Baylee Wright got their first Tacoma Dome appetizer, but they went home empty-handed.
“They’re hungry. I’m hungry,” Martinez said. “We all want to come back here next year and have a big feast.”
Junior AJ Christianson made a strong debut in his first state tournament when he won his opening match 2-1. Senior Jacob Brown and junior Ruben Aguliar earned consolation victories. All three of these Panthers were eliminated Friday.
At the beginning of the season, Lees predicted she would turn all of her seconds last year into firsts this year. On Saturday, Lees proved possibilities are limitless for all Washougal Panthers.
“I’ll always remember the feeling of getting my hand raised and knowing that I’m finally standing on the podium.”